Dry conditions this past summer seemed to be a bit harsher than normal. Soon, many equine owners will be finding themselves low on pasture and forage. Do you have a backup of fiber sources when hay production eventually goes down? We have helpful tips for just that!
Whichever breed of horse you have, evidence on equine nutrients from the National Research Council suggests that inadequate dietary fiber can cause digestive issues like colic or even behavioral problems like cribbing. Some of the main alternative fiber sources you can go for include hay cubes, complete feeds, and byproduct fiber sources.
1) Hay Cubes
With hay cubes, which can easily be purchased at any feed store, there are two main benefits: less dust in hay feeds (thus reducing respiratory issues) and less wasted feed. When replacing hay with hay cubes, be sure to use a ratio of roughly 1:1, i.e. replace 5lbs of hay with 5lbs of hay cubes. Since hay cubes have more weight per unit volume, weigh them.
2) Complete Feeds
As the name suggests, these provide a huge proportion of equine nutrient requirements, including over 16% crude fiber. Complete feeds are meant to be consumed in large volumes compared to lower fiber grain combinations alongside little or zero hay. Follow feeding instructions on the package to make sure your horse is consuming both the nutrients and fiber in adequate amounts.
3) Fiber Byproducts
These include beet pulp, grain hulls, and brans. Beet pulp is obtained from processing sugar beets and is very digestible and palatable to horses. Indeed, research has demonstrated that equine diets can constitute up to 55% beet pulp with no negative effects. Brans, which include rice bran and wheat bran, should be used sparingly due to their ultra-high phosphorus levels. If using bran as a fiber source, also remember to feed your horse with adequate calcium sources to keep the calcium to phosphorus ratio to around 1:1. In addition, rice bran has high-fat concentrations and shouldn’t be fed to obese horses. As for oat hulls, blend them with water to neutralize their dustiness. Since most of these are only fermentable fiber alternatives, use them alongside hay or other complete fiber sources. Typically, they’re used to stretch rather than replace hay.
For any questions or further clarifications, your vet or horse nutritionist can help as well.